William Russell Adams Jr., 71, a teacher, lawyer, journalist and author who dedicated himself to promoting higher education for African American students, died of heart failure Nov. 28 at Pennsylvania Hospital.
Mr. Adams, who most recently worked as an adjunct professor of English at Lincoln University, had taught English in Philadelphia public schools and later at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also held administrative posts, before attending law school there and pursuing a career in civil litigation.
Carol Black, his wife of 35 years and law partner, described Mr. Adams as "a brilliant man" who was "always helping others in the quest for knowledge."
Mr. Adams was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 25, 1936, the fifth of six children of William R. Adams Sr. and Grace Warren Adams.
He attended Philadelphia public schools, graduating from West Philadelphia High School in 1954. Mr. Adams attended Pennsylvania State University before transferring to Cheyney University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1961.
At Cheyney, he was editor of the student newspaper, the Record, and a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Mr. Adams taught English at Bartram High School and West Philadelphia High School from 1961 to 1968. During that period he also worked as a radio newsman at WDAS-FM (105.3), where he sometimes handled DJ duties.
Wynne Alexander, who has chronicled the history of the radio station and whose father, Bob Klein, was the general manager, said Mr. Adams was the news editor on Aug. 28, 1964, when rioting erupted along Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia. Alexander said Mr. Adams dispatched Ed Bradley, then a rising journalist, to the scene.
"We had an extremely talent-packed newsroom," Alexander said. "Bill was the young guy. He had movie-star good looks and was a darn good newsman."
Also during that time, Mr. Adams helped compile four books that were used in the Philadelphia public schools:
Afro-American Literature: Nonfiction; Afro-American Literature: Drama; Afro-American Literature: Fiction
Afro-American Literature: Poetry.
In 1968, Mr. Adams began working at the University of Pennsylvania as a lecturer in English. He quickly became a popular teacher and mentor, particularly among African American and other minority students.
He also served as executive associate dean of admissions and financial aid, director of minority recruitment, and assistant to the provost.
Among the students he influenced was John Edgar Wideman, who later became an acclaimed author and now is a professor of Africana studies and English at Brown University.
"Bill was a very good friend," Wideman said. "He had a whole lot to do with making Penn a more open place for African American students. He helped change the place for the better."
Harold Haskins, retired director of student development planning at the university, said Mr. Adams was "instrumental in providing support for minority students."
Carol Black said she met her future husband at Lincoln University, where she was a student and where he also taught English. She said their relationship blossomed when she started working at the University of Pennsylvania. They married in 1972.
Four years later, Mr. Adams stopped working at Penn and enrolled in law school there, pursuing a lifelong dream.
"When we got married, he told me one of his goals was to become a lawyer," Black said. "He decided to go to law school and I decided to go with him."
They graduated in 1979 and opened their own law firm, Black & Adams, in 1982 at Broad and Chestnut Streets.
For a quarter-century, the firm specialized in civil litigation, serving injured plaintiffs, nonprofit groups and others, especially those seeking redress for civil-rights violations, Black said. Among the lawyers there was the couple's son, Rafiq Adams Al-Shabazz, Black said.
Mr. Adams retired in 2004 for health reasons, and the couple closed the practice, Black said.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns said Mr. Adams and Black gave her a start in law, hiring her as a graduate intern after she had finished law school in Washington.
"At the time when I came back home, doors were not opening for African Americans," Shreeves-Johns said. "They opened their door for me."
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Adams is survived by daughters Kita Williams and Tiy Adams.
A viewing is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church, 5620 Wyalusing Ave., Philadelphia. Another viewing will be held from 9 to 10 a.m. tomorrow at the church. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m.